July 1, 2011
Ford The big news from Ford this year is the ramp up to full production of the electric version of its Transit Connect van, along with the introduction of fuel sipping, gasoline-fired EcoBoost engines for its F-150 pickup line. The all-electric version of the Transit Connect went into full production in April. Vans are equipped with Azure Dynamics' patented Force Drive battery-electric powertrain.


The big news from Ford this year is the ramp up to full production of the electric version of its Transit Connect van, along with the introduction of fuel sipping, gasoline-fired EcoBoost engines for its F-150 pickup line.

The all-electric version of the Transit Connect went into full production in April. Vans are equipped with Azure Dynamics' patented Force Drive battery-electric powertrain. Ford and Azure began collaborating on an all-electric version of the Transit Connect back in October 2009, and the production-ready vehicle today also sports Johnson Controls-Saft's advanced lithium-ion battery. Azure is using contract vehicle assembler AM General to produce the Transit Connect Electric in its facility in Livonia, MI. Ford added that the Transit Connect Electric is the first product in its accelerated electrified vehicle plant; it will be followed by the Focus Electric passenger car later this year, along with a plug-in hybrid electric and two next-generation lithium-ion powered hybrids as well.

For its F-150 pickup trucks, Ford is making available a new optional twin-turbocharged 3.5L Ti-VCT V6 EcoBoost engine, cranking out 365 hp. and 420 lbs.-ft. of torque while delivering 20% better fuel economy than the previous 4.2L V6 it replaces. Revealed last year but only now being made available for purchase, the EcoBoost represents a big gamble by Ford as it's expected to become a “base engine platform” for 90% of the company's North American product by 2013 and account for projected sales of 1.5 million units globally.

Jim Mazuchowski, Ford V6 engines program manager, explains that the EcoBoost is designed to put a V6 engine in place of a V8, providing the performance of a V8 yet the fuel economy profile of a V6. “We're trying to deliver the best of both worlds here — more power yet better fuel economy as well,” he says. For example, the 3.5L EcoBoost generates 163 more hp. and 168 lbs.-ft. of additional torque over the V6 while increasing the F-150 tow rating to 11,300 lbs. and payload rating to 3,060 lbs.

“The tough part is convincing customers of these capabilities,” Mazuchowski says. “But we've done four years of engineering work on these engines, testing them in -40 to over 100 deg. F, while accumulating 1.6 million mi. of equivalent customer use.”

General Motors

General Motors has added factory-built alternative fuel options for its 2012 Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana cutaway 3500 and 4500 commercial vans.

Brian Small, general manager of GM Fleet and Commercial Operations, says both Chevy and GMC vans will come with a “single-source” liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) option for the 2012 model year and the company has tapped Knapheide Manufacturing Co. to install two different LPG systems into the 159-in. wheelbase cutaway Express and Savana vans. CleanFuel USA and Bi-Phase Technologies will serve as Tier 2 suppliers for the 49- and 75-gal. capacity LPG fuel system, respectively.

The cutaways will be built at GM's Wentzville, MO, plant and transported to Knapheide's nearby facility for fuel storage/delivery system installation. Upon completion, vehicles will then be sent to the upfitter chosen by the customer for body installation, says Small. Cutaways available for LPG conversion cover various commercial, school bus, shuttle bus and RV applications.

Both vans will be covered by GM's 3-yr./36,000-mi. new-vehicle limited warranty and 5-yr./100,000-mi. limited powertrain warranty, he adds.

The LPG-powered option joins a fully integrated and dedicated compressed natural gas (CNG) option for the Express and Savana full-size vans. The price of the van includes a dedicated CNG system, a natural gas-capable Vortec 6.0L V8 engine, and heavy-duty trailering equipment.

Powered by a Vortec 6.0L V8 engine, the Chevrolet Express and GMC Savana full-size vans come equipped with hardened exhaust valves, and intake and exhaust valve seats for improved wear resistance and durability with gaseous fuel systems, GM notes.

GM's pickup lines, which underwent extensive redesign in 2011, are not seeing many changes for 2012.

The GMC Sierra Denali 2500HD and 3500HD and the Chevrolet Silverado 2500HD and 3500HD models all are offered with GM's redesigned 6.6L Duramax turbocharged diesel engine, which delivers 397 hp. at 3,000 rpm and 765 lbs.-ft. of torque at 1,600 rpm. The Duramax now features a “smart” exhaust brake feature that enables controlled vehicle slowdown on downhill grades without the need to activate the brakes.

Sierra Denali HD crew cabs remain available only in the 2500 Series (3/4-ton) 2WD and 4WD configurations, as well as the 3500 Series (1-ton) 2WD and 4WD in both single-rear-wheel and dually versions. The 3500 Series is also available in standard (6 ft. 6 in.) and dually long box (8 ft.) versions. A Vortec 6.0L gas V8 Hydra-Matic 6L90 6-spd. automatic powertrain is standard, with the optional Duramax 6.6L turbodiesel/Allison 1000 6-spd. automatic transmission available for all Denali HDs. Altogether, 11 different models are offered for the Sierra Denali HD.

The Chevrolet Silverado heavy-duty lineup will still offer ten 2500HD models and eight single- and dual-rear-wheel 3500HD models, including a new 3500HD crew cab with a 6.5-ft. cargo box. WT, LT and LTZ trim levels are offered; popular features such as the EZ Lift tailgate and rearview camera system remain as optional equipment.

The Silverado gets similar engine/transmission pairings as the Sierra Denali HD, along with beefed up towing capability (21,700 lbs.) and payload (6,335 lbs.) supported by the new fully boxed, high-strength steel frames and strong suspensions introduced last year for the 2011 models.

GM notes that its new 6.6L Duramax diesel delivers up to 11% greater highway fuel economy and up to 63% lower emissions than previous versions, along with B20 biodiesel capability and quicker acceleration. A larger fuel tank combined with better fuel economy gives Duramax-equipped Silverado pickups up to 680 mi. between fill-ups.


The number of dealers selling the International eStar Class 2c-3 all-electric truck continues to grow and build momentum for future sales. Built by the Navistar-Modec EV Alliance, the eStar is now available to buyers throughout the country, from New England to California.

The eStar retains a range of up to 100 mi. per charge, making it ideal for many urban applications. When it returns to its home base at the end of the day, it can be plugged in and fully recharged within six to eight hours.

Navistar reiterates that the eStar is a “purpose-built” truck, meaning it's been designed to run on electric power from the beginning. According to the company, some of the hallmarks of this new design are its low center of gravity, with battery placement between the frame rails; a 36-ft. turning circle; walk-through cab; and a quick-change cassette-type battery that can be swapped out in 20 min.

Other features include nearly 180-deg. visibility, a low-floor design for easy loading/unloading, and a near-zero noise level, which makes this nimble vehicle ideal for urban areas facing noise challenges.

Navistar adds that with zero tailpipe emissions, each eStar truck can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 10 tons annually.

The company also notes that the eStar will continue to be built at its Wakarusa, IN, manufacturing plant, which continues to ramp up to full production as more fleets place orders.

The eStar is the product of a $39.2 million grant funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act and administered by the Dept. of Energy to develop and deploy electric trucks. After receiving the grant, Navistar partnered with Modec to develop the vehicle for the American market and had the vehicle in production with both EPA and CARB approvals within a year.


Not much change is in store for the Sprinter van sold by Mercedes-Benz USA (MB-USA), a division of Daimler AG. The van's lineup consists of the cargo van, passenger van, minibus, cab chassis and crew van, which seats five with remaining interior room set up for cargo.

Like all the other Sprinter models, the crew van is powered by a 3.0L V6 diesel that offers 30% better fuel economy than a comparable gasoline engine, according to MB-USA. This powerplant boasts the four-valve-per-cylinder Mercedes-Benz BlueTec SCR diesel featuring centrally located piezo-electric injectors, CDI direct injection, variable-nozzle turbocharger, and providing 188 hp. and 325 lbs.-ft. of torque.

The Sprinter's interior standing height remains at 6 ft. 4 in., with cargo capacity of up to 547 sq. ft. and payload capacity of up to 5,375 lbs. Cargo van models still feature a side-door opening that's 4 ft. 3 in. wide and 6 ft. high and has the industry's lowest step-in height at 19.9 in.

The company added its 100th Mercedes-Benz Sprinter Van dealership to its network this past May, bringing the total number of dealerships to 156 in the U.S., with the inclusion of the Freightliner Sprinter network.


The first production models of Nissan Commercial Vehicle's new U.S. commercial van are all officially going to be 2012 models, and include the Nissan NV1500, NV2500 HD and NV3500 HD vans. They will all be available with a choice of 4.0L V6 and 5.6L V8 engines and in two body styles: standard roof (all models) and high roof (NV2500 HD and NV3500 HD only). High-roof models offer stand-up walkthrough/work cargo area capability.

On the inside, all Nissan NV models feature wide front doors for easy ingress and egress, supportive bucket seating with extensive adjustability, large armrests, and a truck-like driving position with ample legroom and foot room. The available center console (which is removable) provides a range of integrated storage features, while the fold-down passenger seat adds work-table functionality.

Other interior features include storage pockets, i.e., spaces and compartments designed to provide secure access to the typical commercial customers' everyday use objects, and an under-seat drawer to fit small tools, stationary or first aid kits. High-roof models offer an available overhead console designed to hold work gloves, legal size binders, safety glasses and books.

Another major contributor to the “pickup-like feel” of the NV's cab is the absence of the traditional van engine doghouse that intrudes into the cab due to the setback engine placement. The Nissan NV utilizes a conventional truck engine layout with out-front engine design. This not only frees up space under the instrument panel and between the seats, it also provides easy underhood access to the entire engine for routine service and maintenance, the company notes.

The cargo area of the NV offers a 120-in. cargo floor length and 70.2-in. maximum cargo floor width, with NV standard roof models offering a maximum 55.8-in. cargo area height. The NV's high roof, however, provides a maximum 76.9 in. of cargo room height, enough for most users to move about the cargo area while standing up straight, Nissan notes.

Along with offering wide door openings, the NV offers room between the wheelhouses to accommodate standard plywood or drywall sheets or pallets; a range of cargo area tie-down rings; and ample cargo area lighting.

The NV is designed to allow aftermarket customization and modifications as well. Roof attachment points are built in for the installation of various ladder or utility rack systems without piercing holes in the roof, which can lead to corrosion and water leaks. “Upfitter pre-wiring” is also available for easy access into the electrical system.

Customers have a choice of two engines: a 4.0L V6 rated at 261 hp. and 281 lbs.-ft. of torque, and a 5.6L V8 rated at 317 hp. and 385 lbs.-ft. of torque. Both engines will be mated to a standard 5-spd. automatic, with the V6 getting an estimated 10 to 15% better fuel economy than the V8.

Safety systems for all NV models include dual-stage front air bags, 3-point front seat belts with pre-tensioners and load limiters, plus optional front seat-mounted side-impact air bags and roof-mounted supplemental curtain air bags.

Ram Trucks

Chrysler's Ram Trucks division is making a series of upgrades to its heavy-duty truck line for the 2012 model year, particularly to beef up trailer towing capacity.

Now boasting the ability to pull 22,700-lb. maximum trailer weight, the one-ton Ram 3500 will also get a performance boost to its 6.7L Cummins turbocharged diesel engine that increases its torque by 23% to 800 lbs.-ft. A new powertrain control module with revised performance calibration allows the 6-cyl. Cummins diesel to reach peak torque at 1,600 rpm. While peak horsepower remains unchanged (350 at 3,000 rpm), the engine's new calibration delivers more than 40 additional horsepower at typical highway cruising speeds.

Ram is also introducing a new torque converter to improve engine/transmission integration for better towing capability on grades and optimized engine performance, along with a new crankshaft damper to reduce engine noise and vibration.

Dual-rear-wheel-equipped Ram 3500 pickups with the max tow package are now going to be rated at 30,000 lbs. GCWR — up from 24,500 lbs. — for maximum towing power. Chrysler's powertrain engineers gave the Ram 3500 an improved dual-rear wheel axle with a 4.10 gear ratio, new rear-axle pinion, new helical gears, upgraded bearings, and a heat-dissipating, finned aluminum differential cover.

As part of the upgrade, the truck will also get a new engine-mounted, oil-to-coolant transmission cooler to moderate operating temperatures during trailer towing. Max tow is available on regular and crew cab 3500s only.

All Ram 2500 and 3500 heavy-duty pickups will also get upgraded power steering oil coolers to manage larger loads. The Cummins diesel is optional for the Ram 2500, which gets the 5.7L Hemi engine as the standard powerplant.

Because it uses a single rear-wheel axle, Ram 2500 GCWR remains unchanged at 22,000 lbs., and manual transmission-equipped Ram heavy-duty pickups retain their 350 hp./610 lbs.-ft. of torque performance ratings.

Ram is also debuting a Class 1 cargo van (C/V) model that features 1,800-lb. cargo payload and towing capability of up to 3,600 lbs. It has maximum GCWR of 8,750 lbs., a 20-gal. fuel tank, and gets 25 mpg highway.


Not much is changing for Toyota's full-sized Tundra pickup model or for its compact Tacoma pickup. The Tundra will continue to offer a base 4.0L V6 engine with dual variable valve timing with intelligence (VVT-i) for 2012, increasing power and performance. The 310-hp. 4.6L and 381-hp. 5.7L V8 engines continue to be offered across the Tundra line.

Standard for all Tundra models is trailer sway control, which uses its Vehicle Stability Control system to help counteract forces on the truck caused by a swaying trailer in tow. The Tundra will continue to be offered in two grades (Tundra and Tundra Limited); three cab styles (regular cab, double cab and CrewMax); three wheelbase lengths (126.8, 145.7 and 164.6 in. depending on model and configuration); and three bed lengths (78.7, 97.6 and for CrewMax only, 66.7 in.).

A Tundra work truck package aimed at commercial truck buyers that need a “no-frills” truck will also continue to be offered. This package features vinyl seating and rubber flooring and is available in regular and double cab configurations with any of the Tundra's three engine choices, Toyota said.

The 4.0L dual overhead cam (DOHC) V6 that's standard in Tundra regular and double cab models retains the performance boost introduced last year that increased horsepower to 270 from 236, and peak torque to 278 lbs.-ft. up from 266 lbs.-ft. The V6 is also teamed with a 5-spd. automatic transmission with uphill/downhill shift logic.

The 4.6L i-Force V8 added to the Tundra line for the 2010 model year will remain available for all models, providing 310 hp., 327 lbs.-ft. of torque. It delivers a versatile combination of power and efficiency. The 5.7L i-Force V8 churns out 381 hp. at 5,000 rpm while producing 401 lbs.-ft. of peak torque at 3,600 rpm.

For the Tacoma, Toyota has added five 4-cyl. model variations for customers seeking higher value and fuel economy. The five models include: access cab 4×2 PreRunner 4-spd. automatic; double cab 4×2 4-spd. automatic; double cab 4×2 PreRunner 4-spd. automatic; regular cab 4×4 4-spd. automatic; and access cab 4×4 4-spd. automatic.

The Tacoma line still offers two engines: a 2.7L DOHC 4-cyl. that produces 159 hp. with 180 lbs.-ft. of torque and a 4.0L DOHC V6 that outputs 236 hp. with 266 lbs.-ft. of torque. In both engines, VVT-i provides strong low-end and midrange torque. An electronic throttle control system with intelligence (ETCS-i) helps optimize performance and fuel economy.

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